Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable and pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.. Amen. (Psalm 19:14 AMP)
My text for this morning is from the end of the reading we heard in the prophet Haggai, chapter 2, vs. 9. You can see it in your bulletin: “The latter splendor of this house will be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” I want to talk to you briefly about Splendor, and Money.
Before I begin to talk about this verse and what it can mean to us as a parish in transition, I have a few house-keeping items for you.
First, Welcome to Good Shepherd Parish. ….. Well, actually, since this is MY first Sunday as the new Interim Rector, perhaps YOU should be saying that to ME……Go ahead!
So, second, my name is Robert Eaton, and, thanks to the appointment by your Vestry, and the approval of your bishop, I am your new Interim Rector. The plan at this point is for me to be here with you for about one year. I’ll talk about that ministry during the next couple of sermons.
Third, I want to congratulate you all on remembering to change your clocks…..as far as I could tell no one came an hour early. That shows something of your commitment to be here and to worship God together.
Also, as you heard already, this might otherwise have been our celebration of the Feast of All Saints, one of the major feast days of the Church. Instead, we have kept the focus on the lessons for this 25th Sunday after Pentecost. You may have noticed how similar the Collects are, and the lessons might do nicely for the same, as well. To honor the day, though, and the communion of all the saints in God’s glory, I chose to wear one of your parish Copes, the gold and green one. I’ll wear different colored copes from your parish vestment collection on all of our major feast days. As another element of liturgical celebration, you may have noticed the scent of incense, which I used yesterday evening to cense the church so as not to scare off too many people this morning. It is especially appropriate for All Saints as one of the purposes of offering incense is to represent the rising prayers of all the saints, God’s people.
Finally, I bring greetings to you from my wife, Angela, and our family, all of whom live in Tulare, which is halfway between Bakersfield and Fresno on HWY 99. She passes on to you her regret at not being able to be here this morning to meet you all, but promises that you will be seeing her from time to time. I ask that you keep her and the families of our two daughters in your daily prayers.
Now let’s turn to Haggai.
In a day of profound discouragement and misplaced priorities following the return of the Jews from their exile in Babylon, the prophet Haggai sounded a clarion call of rebuke, exhortation, and encouragement to his contemporaries. They had begun to rebuild their own homes and businesses and to establish their statehood as a Jewish community but had been derelict in tending to the construction of the destroyed temple and making the Lord God Almighty the central focus of all their hopes and dreams. We can date this prophetic ministry to 520 BC. God speaks his Word through Haggai and effectively shakes the Jews from their lethargy. The application of course is the abiding relevance for all who fail to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
All you are hearing today is a section from the first chapter, this glorious vision and its calling to God’s work and what He wants from you as well. So much of the rest of the book of Haggai continues in encouragement in the same kinds of words we long to hear from God: “I believe in you”, “I will bless you”, “I have chosen you.” In one sense, it is not for the faint of heart. It means that God sees exactly where we are, that no matter what We think are our own barriers, He wants us to go forward with Him, to trust Him and work for His glory.
I will give you a hint, though, about one thing that is so unique in an immediately chronological kind of way — the Jews actually listen to the prophet to the point of carrying out what God is speaking to them about and asking of them. Only the non-Jews of Ninevah responded any faster, a point the People of God usually do not appreciate. But I don’t want to spoil your own reading, so I commend to your reading the rest of the book of the prophet Haggai.
But it is not a “feel good” prophecy simply for the sake of feeling good. There is work to be done: the work of recommitment, the work of repentance, the work of giving all to God’s kingdom.
So you see, they have some work to do before they get to building the temple, which will happen under Nehemiah’s gift of administration and governance, as recorded in that Book of the bible. And then incredibly — and I say incredibly because the Jews have just spent 16 or so years doing nothing about it, which would make most of US go looking for another group of people — God calls them into the work moving on from there, which will be to make the commitments and sacrifices of getting their hands dirty in actual construction, and some in forming a security force to make sure the construction continues in safety from outside attack. And ALONG with that will be the necessity of Giving Money so the work can start and continue unabated. Yes, the treasury of Babylon will be opened to assist in the rebuilding. But even the leaders of that time knew — and God knows — that where your treasure is there also will be your heart.
So here is the point about the Splendor of the Temple rebuilt being greater than before being connected to Money. Neither Haggai, nor Zerubabbel, nor Joshua, nor Nehemiah, nor even God, waves a magic wand over a prophecy and Kaboom it appears out of nowhere. This is important for you to see, that the vision and prophecy for the new Temple would be accomplished as God promised, but with both mandated, expected and generous giving of money, and physical work. And it was so.
I don’t believe God’s work in bringing us together in ministry would stop by me showing up one Sunday as the freshly discerned Interim priest. I am never surprised when the lessons for a specific day speak so clearly to the situation of that day. I am always in awe and wonder, but not surprised. And so I wondered as I have been praying for this first sermon, how God would bring a vision for this work of transition and beyond. My wonder has turned into awe and amazement with this section from Haggai. For one thing, it should tell you that where you are now, the People of God have been before, and God was faithful to bring them to hope from utter depression as they gazed upon the ruins of the temple. As He has done so many times since, and especially in the resurrection from the dead, for goodness sake, so He can do for you here at Good Shepherd Parish. And now especially we hear the phrase, “Take courage”. Why? Because God has told Haggai to proclaim to Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the People, “Work, for I am with you.” And to say, “My spirit abides among you; do not fear.”
I’m pretty sure that the reason for the theme, “Jesus is Here” for your stewardship campaign is not because someone went looking in the lessons for the Ingathering of your pledges. But there it is, nonetheless, affirmed for you both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
And just as it was for those revitalized People of God 2500 years ago, so this vision of a greater latter splendor is relevant to this parish today, but will not be accomplished — because that’s the way God wants it to be — without your commitment to work to see it happen, and for your continued deep and faithful giving of your money. But when it happens, as I pray with faith and expectancy it will, what an awesome sight, what an awesome, inspiring story, what a witness and testimony for the Power and Love of God in revival for the whole Church.
YOU have known your former glory, and you are feeling the fear of both abandonment and desolation, destruction by attrition of what you come to love dearly in this parish. But as you look what is nothing compared to what was before, God speaks comfort and encouragement and hope into you now, so that, your faith being built up, you can receive God’s promise that an even greater splendor is possible and what God wants for you here. Almost makes me want to cry in joy. You are called to work and give more than generously for the investment of God’s Kingdom come in this place.
Let me distill this quickly for you, so you have your talking points and prayer points as the foundation of the work of each one of you for your search for a new rector, and with that in hand, the rebuilding and revival of this temple of God, that is, the people and the ministry in Jesus’ name known as Good Shepherd Parish.
- Renew your Faith in Jesus Christ, who has risen from the Dead, and thus gives us hope for the same
- Believe the ascent from despair where things have fallen is absolutely within your ability, with God’s help
- Change your lives in behavior and attitudes to be in line with God’s word.
- Stand firm by resisting the enemy who will work to distract you
- Like your life depends on it, and like good sheep in the flock of Jesus the Shepherd, learn to listen to the Lord’s voice so you will be able to follow where he leads
- Pour your heart and soul into rebuilding
- Give your money to invest in the building up of God‘s kingdom , its all God’s anyway, to the goal of the latter splendor of this house of God being greater than it was before.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)